FIDH’s recommendations for a new EU Action Plan for human rights and democracy.

The EU Strategic Framework for human rights and democracy and its Action Plan, adopted in June 2012, outlined the determination of the European Union to better integrate human rights in all areas of its external policies. This new tool lead to the adoption of various instruments and strategies to give this important policy substance. To cite but some examples, work has been undertaken by the EU to devise new guidelines, to set up human rights focal points in delegations, and the process for developing local human rights country strategies in third countries has begun (though has not yet been made public). The EU also fosters an important agenda on the international scene, supporting the universality and the protection of human rights in various areas such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion conscience and belief, LGBTI rights, women’s rights and fighting against the death penalty for example.

The EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan has been a valuable instrument. It revealed an important consensus, as it was endorsed by the EU institutions (Comimission and EEAS) and all the Member States. It stated not only a new strategy, but translate commitments in concrete actions. It offered mean to measure the EU’s ambitions, to familiarise institutions and EU representatives that are not specifically in charge of human rights to the EU policy in this field, and to create a dynamic in favour of human rights cultural change and sensitiveness internally, from the Brussels’ headquarters to the decentralised delegations and embassies in third countries.

However, efforts still remain to be made and pursued in several areas, mainly in those where few improvements or achievements have been realised or in those where additional challenges need to be duly addressed. FIDH proposes that the EU makes a new commitment in that sense, knowing that the implementation term of the Action Plan is reaching its end, and that the EU is undertaking a comprehensive review process.

If the upcoming new Action Plan is still supposed to bear concrete commitments in order to realise the policy goals stated in the EU Strategic Framework, the EU is currently seeking to make this new Action Plan more strategic and more prioritized. As a direct consequence, the number of planned actions in the new plan will probably be reduced. Indeed, the 2012-2014 Action Plan set up more than 90 concrete activities. Among them, some were conceived as a one shot action (such as setting up human rights focal points in EU delegations, or the establishment of a Brussels based formation of COHOM) and have been implemented with success. Others were conceived as part of a longer and more complex range of actions (such as the commitment to make trade work for human rights or to use the best interplay of the tools the EU has at its disposal to foster human rights) which requires closer follow up and best implementation to achieve the expected results.

FIDH can share this view of the usefulness of an Action Plan to be more prioritised and strategic. The exercise can be however double edged, and all energies should be deployed in order to preserve the important achievements and added value of the 2012-2014 Action Plan and to not impede the expectations it created. To that end, FIDH proposes that the new Action Plan ensures continuity with previous commitments and, albeit less diversified, that the new action plan be framed to enhance its strategic benefit, notably by defining a methodology able to ensure that the main challenges are effectively addressed. FIDH wishes to formulate particular proposals to that end, justifying them in the present paper, while providing additional details on the concrete actions proposed, their triggers, output and expected results in annex.

FIDH proposes to devise the action plan in three main commitments that tend to complement each other, and proposes to develop them in specific actions and outcomes.

I. keep in mind and report on underlying and common principles of the Action Plan.
Affirm a principle of continuity with the EU Strategic Framework and its successive Action Plans in order to avoid that by trying to reduce de number of priorities, concrete commitments and achievements would be lost for the future. Insist on the common principles carried by the EU Strategic Framework, ensure they will guide the implementation of the new Action Plan and report on them in order to avoid what FIDH has identified as a fragmented implementation of the 2012-2014 Action Plan that focused too much on micro achievements and missed, in some areas, the implementation of a global and coherent strategy. For example, one of the clear aims of the EU Strategic Framework and its Action Plan is to achieve results, enhance efficiency of EU action, and strengthen EU efforts to ensure human rights are realised for all. However, in the follow up of the implementation of the 2012-2014 Action Plan, concrete results in the respect for human rights or in the effective improvement of the tools the EU has engaged to that end, have not been reported. Failing to ensure that the EU keeps in mind the global purpose of its strategy bears the risk of deploying a lot of energy in communication instead in advancements, which would also be costly in terms of credibility and legitimacy.

II. Use a strategic Methodology to implement the Action Plan and the priorities of the EU Strategic Framework FIDH considers it primordial to build the new plan on an efficient methodology able to foster the prioritisation and strategization and able to preserve and give effective and efficient substance to the main guidance in which the Action Plan is delivered, namely the 2012 EU Strategic Framework. It is also the opportunity to pay particular attention to specific goals, commitments and tools that were already in the 2012-2014 Action Plan, but that have remained largely a dead letter in term of implementation, despite their incomparable added value in order to achieve results and in order to truly implement the EU commitments : first, the use of EU human rights policy instruments (dialogues, guidelines, incentives, sanctions, human rights clauses, etc.) in a strategic fashion to better serve human rights progress; and second, the undertaking to integrate human rights into all EU policies and actions, such as its cooperation on counter-terrorism, on business, migration, and trade. Those previous commitments need to be reaffirmed.

The need to achieve better results in the integration of human rights in all external policies is first justified by the constitutional status of this commitment. Indeed, whatever the specific human rights at stake, the priorities or the specific countries concerned, the EU founding treaties (not. 3 & 21 TUE) require that all external activities are designed and implemented in order to respect human rights and to consolidate human rights in its partner countries. FIDH proposes then to retain this exact wording and not to dilute EU legal obligations and the way by which the EU implements human rights. In addition, in order to ensure the EU meets the main goals laid down in the EU Strategic Framework (improvement of human rights), it is essential to ensure the EU’s activities converge to protect human rights and do not lead to violations, impede human rights, or nullify the achievement reached in other areas of competences. An additional argument in maintaining the commitment as a high priority and to be effectively implemented is by better using the tools the EU has already also committed to mobilise: impact assessments, well designed clauses, but also a better research of enforcement and redress mechanism.

In addition, in order to implement the common principles laid down in the EU Strategic Framework, while progress can sometimes be achieved by dialogue and technical assistance, the EU needs in some cases to overcome reluctance by using other tools at its disposal like public statements, incentives, sanctions etc. In the same vein, there is a need for the EU to constantly assess its results in that regard in order to find the best tools and policy mix. While those principles have been pointed out in the Strategic Framework and in the 2012-2014 Action Plan, their implementation has been in many respects unsatisfactory. For example, the human rights dialogue held for more than 15 years with China has not led to any significant result, while the EU neither appears to engage in a strategy that uses all the instruments it has at its disposal, nor seems to pay due and efficient attention to human rights when dealing with trade and investment policies with this country for example.

In consequence, it is essential to reiterate those two commitments (HR in all EU policies and best interplay between tools at its disposal) which are the cornerstones of the implementation of the EU obligations and commitments, and more concretely to set up a specific methodology in order to give effective substance to those obligations. Various components of this methodology have been already agreed upon in the previous Action Plan, but given that their implementation has been unsatisfactory, implemented without seeking concrete results or in a fragmented way, they need to be reiterated and specified. FIDH has developed its proposals, to be found in annex.

III. Specific achievements to be sought in thematic issues
FIDH concludes by proposing some specific actions to complement the principles and methodology commitments in order to pinpoint necessary improvements in some of the issues raised in the Strategic Framework’s thematic proposals.

FIDH notably proposes concrete actions to address ESCR violations and their indivisibility with civil and political rights, to improve the human rights records of trade and investments activities and policies as well as of businesses, to adopt a human rights based approach in migration policies and to provide for a genuine partnership with civil society, including at the local level.

Regarding trade, FIDH remains highly concerned by the fact that, even if the EU committed in 2012 to insert human rights in impact assessments carried out for trade agreements, to make trade works in a way that help human rights, to consider the human rights situation in third countries when negotiating trade and investment agreements and to ensure that EU investment policy takes human rights into account, only few steps have actually been taken, and for the most can be qualified as a window dressing exercise, as FIDH has already duly documented. More concrete commitments and a more effective implementation is in consequence required and described in annex. The same for migration, where implementations of the 2012 commitments have been largely insufficient as attested notably by the results of the investigation conducted by the EU Ombudsman into respect for fundamental rights by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, and by the April 2013 UNSR report Recommendations made by both the Ombudsman and the UNSR remain largely unaddressed and reforms needed have not yet been implemented. The Ombudsman has recently opened a new inquiry into respect for fundamental rights of migrants by Frontex in joint return operations.

FIDH finally calls on the EU to multiply and to reinforce its efforts in order to address current violations of Jus Cogens, of norms erga omnes, and of most serious international crimes. Any situation were the most horrific violations of international laws occur must be seriously challenged and fought, impunity must cease, and prevention must remain the priority. Among others, these concern torture, genocide, slavery and crimes against humanity. They create, for the international community as whole, and for the EU in consequence, specific duties, notably to undertake concrete steps to enforce compliance with international law by the offender State for example. FIDH calls on the EU to accept this as a priority.

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